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PEDRONCELLI WINERY  90th Anniversary Celebration

Many Photos, Notes and attempts at humor by
GERALD WEISL,
wine merchant

 

I received a touching invitation to a little 90th Anniversary Celebration from our friends at the Pedroncelli winery in Sonoma County.  We've been buying Pedroncelli wines since the early 1970s and this winery continues to make good wines at sensible prices (just like they did decades ago), so they are quite popular in our little wine shop.


These days, the California wine scene has changed dramatically since the first days when we became acquainted with Pedroncelli.
What hasn't changed is the Pedroncelli family's notion of making good wines for people who actually drink wine, not for those who are looking for a museum piece to display on a pedestal.  They have not catered to making whatever style of wine is currently fashionable, sticking to good, old-school, classic winemaking.

As a result, you won't find inky, black-colored wines in the Pedroncelli portfolio.  They don't make high alcohol, gobs o'fruit-bombs with noticeable residual sugar (noticeable to everyone except those critics who employ a 100 point rating scale).  You won't find "Orange Wine" at the Pedroncelli Winery, nor will you find lavishly-oaked wines.

The celebration began mid-afternoon and we hopped in the car late in the morning in hopes of arriving on time.  Traffic in San Francisco was a mess.  Traffic south of Petaluma was a mess.  The highway near Santa Rosa was clogged.
All the while I wondered "How many people did Pedroncelli invite to their festa that the roads are so crowded?"


 
The winery hasn't changed much since our first visit in 1972 or 1973.


From a US Government Roster of Bonded Wineries printed in 1937.

I'm in a wine-tasting group called The Vino Fino Tasters.  This rag-tag bunch started in 1974 and our first tasting was Cabernets from Napa and Sonoma.  We had 1970 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve, Heitz Cellar, Yverdon, Inglenook, Charles Krug, Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi and, oh yes, Pedroncelli.
Most of the wines sold for $6 to $8.  Heitz might have been $10.  Pedroncelli was approximately $4.
The Pedroncelli family always was regarded by those "in the know" for good quality and good value.

In 2014 we poked around the cellar for bottles from that era in hopes of recreating our group's original tasting.  Our colleague (at the time) Monica Ugarte worked in Pedroncelli's tasting room and we asked if they had any bottles from those early days.  Jim Pedroncelli was unsure about the quality of his 1970, so he not only found a bottle of that, but a "back-up" bottle, the 1971.

Both bottles showed splendidly, by the way!



Julie Pedroncelli-St. John was at the front door, greeting the guests, one-by-one.
It was a most interesting guest list!

As we assembled, I went up to one old codger and asked,
"Say, didn't you use to be Dave Stare of Dry Creek Vineyard?"
"Why I still am Dave Stare...yes!"

Weimax was maybe one of Dave's first customers when he opened the Dry Creek Vineyard back in the early 1970s.


We then noticed another old-timer, Hank Wetzel whose family founded the Alexander Valley Vineyard in the mid-1970s.

We purchased Chenin Blanc and "Pinot Chardonnay" from him back in the day.
There's still a floor-stack of cases of Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon in the shop.


So, yes, this day was a wonderful trip down memory lane.


In the cellar adjacent to the tasting room, they had set up numerous tables with 9 glasses at each place setting.

Jim Pedroncelli was all smiles to be celebrating such a cool event.

We recalled reading a nice story of the Pedroncelli Winery ages ago in a book by Nathan Chroman, an LA lawyer, wine buff and writer for the Los Angeles Times (at the time):

 

The book had a nice snapshot of a young Jim Pedroncelli.

Jim is quoted in the book, speaking about the various microclimates of Sonoma County.
He said "Wine is something that's thought about as it's consumed---more so than a prune, for example.  You don't exactly hear people say 'It's a good prune, not a great prune, but I admire its presumption."

Of course, Jim was referring to to the classic James Thurber cartoon about wine:

Meanwhile, we found this on the internet, thanks to some Russian Hackers...

 

Wine writer Leon Adams mentioned the "Pedroncelli Brothers" winery in his book from the 1970s, The Wines of America:


Henry Van Der Voort

Back in those days we had wines from Mr. Van Der Voort's portfolio, too.

The Pedroncelli Family has donated a few items to the Smithsonian Museum.
For example, an old barrel stencil...

And there's an old sign from the winery...

Apparently the Pedroncelli family must have a new Polenta Pot as they donated their old one to The Smithsonian!

Yes...Seriously...the Pedroncellis donated this family heirloom to The Smithsonian.
Click on the link, please, as I know you don't believe me.


They had a nice display on some barrel-heads of the history of the winery.
I still am enamored with the labels from the 1970s.


Julie Pedroncelli St. John then called the meeting to order.

Julie has a nice little essay regarding the 90th Anniversary.
CLICK HERE to read that.

She introduced Dick Rosano, a gentleman who gave a talk about the Italian influence on winemaking in America.


Wine Heritage--The Story of Italian-American Vintners

We learned the importance of 1833 and 1933.
Lots of immigration in the 1800s and since Italians were capable of planting vines and making wine, many were in the right place at the right time once Prohibition ended in 1933.


The start of Prohibition.

Then in 1933, Prohibition was on its way out.

Then the Prohibition era came to a close.

John & Jim Pedroncelli's "Babbo" Giovanni purchased a vineyard and old (and defunct) winery in 1927.  John was but two years old when his dad bought the property along Canyon Road in Geyserville.

Imagine investing in vineyards at a time when commercial winemaking, unless it was Sacramental wine or wine for medicinal purposes, was illegal.
Ha!
The loophole was that homemade wine was legal and each household was permitted to produce 200 gallons annually.

Dan Berger, who practically remembers the detail of every vintage since the Lincoln Administration (practically) told about enterprising Italian vineyard owners selling grapes during Prohibition.


Dan explained how Louis Martini made "Wine Bricks" and these included "warnings" for what not to do with such a brick of dried, compressed grapes lest the brick turn into juice which could be fermented and causing it to become wine.

Here's an old bottle we had in the shop which contained wine, once upon a time.
Image result for "louis martini" "wine brick"

It had a pharmacy label on it with the "directions": 
Wine glass as needed.


The Pedroncelli Family, way back when.

Dan took the opportunity to sing some Karaoke tunes for us and then we got down to business.

You haven't lived 'til you've heard Dan sing "Joy to The World," a Three Dog Night tune...

His updated rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Drinking Wine Spo Dee-o-Dee" was remarkable.

I soon noticed there was a jar being passed around the room as Dan sang.

 


Dan finally led us through a flight of Zinfandels and a flight of Cabernets.
At least he was merely singing the praises of the wines.

Julie said "Heck, I'm jumping in!"


We started with Pedroncelli's 1982 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, poured from magnums.
This wine, today, might be totally illegal.
Well, it seems like it might be...only 12.5% alcohol! 
Nobody does that anymore, it seems.

There was a nice touch of dried rose petals here with a mildly earthy tone.  Dan described it as "saddle leather" and "tea."  It has lost its Zinfandel fruit, but developed into a handsome, mature red wine.

Then we had the Pedroncelli 1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel.  Still berryish and quite Zin-like...elegant, medium-bodied.  I detected an almost minty quality to this lovely wine.

Next was the Pedroncelli 1995 "Bushnell Vineyard" Zinfandel.
I've not paid much attention to this bottling over the years...silly me!
Now I see the error of my ways.
Dark ruby in color and plenty of bright Zin fruit with some spice.  It's really nice Zinfandel and
really nice "Dry Creek."  Mildly tannic, still.  Very fine!

Then we had the 2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel...Medium ruby in color and with a beautifully exotic fragrance.  Berries and bramble...lightly tannic...elegant...very fine!

Dan went on to explain there are four types of wine:


We then began with a 40 year old Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon.

1977 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon...aged in neutral redwood tanks and then given a year in oak...this had just 13.4% alcohol and was from a challenging vintage as 1977 was the second of two drought years.  The nose was quite good with ripe fruit but not raisiny notes.  Tea-like flavors and lightly dusty/earthy tones.  Great balance and smooth, but still alive and kickin'!

We then had a 1992 vintage but the bottle at my table was not quite right and showed some musty elements due to a faulty cork.

Next was the 1996 "Three Vineyards" Cabernet.  At this stage Pedroncelli began using Cabernet Franc and Merlot...12 months in American oak, too.  Very good nose to this elegant and fine "Claret."  Nice intensity on the palate and good length...


Then we were treated to a 2000 vintage Alexander Valley Cabernet from the Morris Fay Vineyard.
Entirely Cabernet Sauvignon and this was matured for 16 months in both French and American oak barrels.
I was surprised by the youthfulness of this wine (but heck, look at Jim Pedroncelli, who's still a youngster!).
Good nose with some leafy, herbal tones.  Moderately tannic.  Lengthy...very fine!


This had 15% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot...medium+ ruby in color, it still looks young.  Mildly woodsy and showing dark fruit notes.  On the palate, this is still young...it's a baby, in fact.

Damn!  Those were some terrific bottles!
The wines are a far cry from the powerhouse, high octane wines which are currently fashionable in some circles.

Having heard Dan sing, Julie's husband Ed St. John got up and sang.

Ed sang Mar-Vino Gaye's "I Heard it Through The Grapevine."
Everyone was shocked by how well he sings.


Yes, that's Dirk The (Wonder) Dog on the movie screen.

After some other people got up and told a story, or two, we had a few more minutes to re-taste some of the wines.

I sat next to a fellow from Oregon and only after he offered his business card did I realize I'd met him more than 25 years ago at his office in Portland.
I was (trying to) translate for a dear friend from Italy whose wine Greg's company, the Lemma Wine Company, was selling.
It turns out today we have many mutual friends in Italy!

 


And then we all got up from the table to head out into the warm Dry Creek sun.

And as we heard more than once...it's "family."

So there was a lot of hugging going on.


As we headed out through the tasting room, there were Pedroncelli hats for everyone to have as a souvenir.

As you see in this old snapshot, Giovanni Pedroncelli wore a similar hat and it was a bit of a signature for him.

Jim, Giovanni and John Pedroncelli in 1963.

 

Sonoma County is "big" on sustainable, but there aren't many wineries that have "sustained" for 90 years.

As we ambled through the vineyard, we stopped to have a look at the 2017 vintage.

 

 


The ice cold Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut was magic in combating the heat.



Everyone looked Fedorable.

As we stood in the shade, trying to stay cool, we noticed something in the air.

 

That drone was equipped with a camera, we were told, so everyone hoisted a glass to toast the 90th Anniversary.

We knew Dan Berger was a two-fisted taster.

Ed St. John spoke about the new vineyard...The Novanta Vineyard.

Jim, who's a man of few words, said a few words.

"Thank you all for coming.  Drink up...we'll make more!"

And we cheered and toasted some more.

The words and wine flowed mellifluously.


Old vines:

Young vines:


The Pedroncellis cast a beautiful shadow in Dry Creek.



The gal in the blue shirt: she's displaying The Kim Stare.

 


Dick Rosano explaining "I'm not anti-terroiriste, I've worked as an anti-terrorist...oh, never mind, let's have another pour of the Gloria Ferrer bubbly!"


She's a woman of many hats...

We then moseyed on back to the tasting room where some large format bottles were waiting.

 

 

Winemaker Montse Reece:

Montse Reece is the third winemaker in the history of the Pedroncelli winery.


Lance

 

 

 

 

The tables were now all numbered and set, waiting for the guests to take a seat.

Once everyone was seated, we were shown a beautiful video created for this event.
The various family members, whether or not they're named Pedroncelli, were interviewed about wine, their work and their lives...
They were posed a series of questions..."What do you envision for the winery in the next 90 years?"
And then, "what's your favorite wine?"

Jim said "Zinfandel" and the room erupted with great applause!

CLICK HERE TO SEE THIS TOUCHING VIDEO
by Marcus Cano, soon to be famous film-maker/cinematographer

After tasting those four older Zins earlier, no wonder there was so much of a thunderous applause!!


Dave Stare stood up and gave a talk about his being the first "new" winery in the Dry Creek area back in the early 1970s and now he's one of the "old."


As you can see, this couple from Washington State has hailed a Cab.
A 1982 Cab.

We had a Chicken and Polenta starter, followed by this beefy dish.

The 1982 was showing very well with this dish.

 

And with that, the "meeting was adjourned."

One more snapshot...

 

The 90th Anniversary Celebration, by the way, has been seen around the country.
Here's a snapshot from San Francisco's Museum of Moddern Art:

In the city of Sonoma there was a rock concert on the square...

Here's a photo from New York City:

Even in Hong Kong they commemorated this anniversary.

Another photo in New York:

In the wilds of Colorado at high elevation, the party was televised, apparently.

In Moscow there was a march urging Putin to consider importing some "Mother Clone" to "Mother Russia."

A bus stop in San Francisco...

Another bus stop along the Embarcadero:

Pedroncelli's PR Agency sure did a good job, too.


Gywenth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. are working on a new Iron Man film.
Ed St. John made the front page of the newspaper.

Julie has been described as a "work of art."
Here's concrete evidence, displayed at The De Young Museum in San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in July?

Yes, apparently.

Back in New York, again.

 


Newspapers around the world published stories about the 90th Anniversary celebration.

In Paris Monday morning...

In Milwaukee...

In London...


In Austin, Texas, a fellow on a bike was surprised to see Jim and Julie on a billboard.

Chef Gordon Ramsay knows good wine...

...apparently.

 

And, as we already know...everybody is a critic.

 

 

A former Governor of California might know something about the local wine scene.

 


The New York Times!  OMG!!!

In Shanghai...

 

London, again.

American Revolutionary-Era Statesman Patrick Henry was, apparently, as fan of Dry Creek Valley wines.

 

CLICK HERE FOR THE PEDRONCELLI WEB SITE

 

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